Monday, January 30, 2006

Cover Judging

This past weekend, my husband and I were all set to go and enjoy a night out at the movies. We had a babysitter lined up and everything. The only problem was -- there was nothing worth seeing within 40 miles. (With the notable exception of "Brokeback Mountain," a film I've already seen an embarrassing number of times, which my husband has no wish to see, and which, frankly, is not a date film, no matter how wonderful it is on a literary or cinematic level...)

I voted for "Casanova," another Heath Ledger vehicle that several friends have said is worth the admission price. But it hasn't showed around here yet, and there's no indication that it will any time soon. Robert and I both want to see "The New World," (He: Historical story looks good. Me: Colin Farrell and Christian Bale in one film? Rapture!) but it hasn't made it to the area yet either.

Both of those films have been out for WEEKS. What is showing at the many screens near here, you ask? "Underworld," "Syriana," and "Cheaper by the Dozen 2." Vampires, the Middle East, and unnecessary Disney remake. Not anything I'm dying to spend money on.

So we stayed home and rented DVD's. We watched two: "Two for the Money," a sports-betting-is-bad flick with Pacino, Russo, and McConaughey. And "Cypher," a 2002 sci-fi release starring Jeremy Northam and Lucy Liu. Both films were ok. I actually prefered "Cypher," but that may be because my expectations for it were lower.

The reason I bring this up, however, is to comment on the cover copy that caused us to pick up the DVD's in the first place. You know the drill: Wander up and down the aisle of New Releases. Look for something that catches your eye (that you haven't seen). See if they have it in widescreen. Flip it over and read the back. Make a decision on whether or not to watch something that Hollywood spent millions of dollars to produce based upon a few short paragraphs of text.

In both cases, the cover copy on the DVD's, while interesting, was inaccurate. "Two for the Money" is touted as a "con versus con" story. It's not. It's the story of a self-destructive, barely recovered gambling addict who runs a sports betting advice service. It's a character study -- not at all plot driven. "Cypher" was billed as a foray into the world of corporate espionage, but it's more of a spy thriller.

Makes you wonder if the people writing the copy have seen the movie.

They probably haven't. On many, many occasions, I've been on the other side of the cover text coin. I've written marketing copy and cover text for scores of videos that I've never seen. In some cases, I've written the promotional materials for projects that weren't even completed. I just have to take the producer's word for what the project will be about, and try to come up with something that accurately describes what they've produced.

I spent some time this morning talking to Geoff about the cover that Trafalgar Square has proposed for his book. A large part of the day was spent itemizing our concerns and explaining why we thought it would be worth changing a thing or two.

Ultimately, however, the decision is the publisher's (or, in the case of films, the producer's or the distibutor's). Those who are responsible for writing the words, or acting out the roles, are in no position to approve or edit the marketing copy that goes on the finished product.

This just goes to show how dangerous it is to judge a book by its cover. But what's the alternative? When choosing my Saturday evening entertainment, I'm as guilty of "cover judging" as the next person. When it comes to deciding how I'm going to spend my money, what I'm going to read, or what I will watch, I am at the mercy of the cover text composers. As Geoff's book is poised to head to press, that's a sobering thought indeed...